Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mizuki Shigeru: Akuma-kun

Mizuki Shigeru 水木しげる. Akuma-kun 悪魔くん (Devil Boy). 1991.

To be precise, this is a 1991 bunkobon reprint. It contains six stories that were originally published in 1966 and 1967 in Shônen Magazine 少年マガジン.

Akuma-kun is one of Mizuki's more durable heroes, right up there with Kitarô, which means he's appeared in just as bewildering a variety of iterations. (Here's the Japanese Wikipedia article on him.) In 1963-4 Mizuki wrote kashihon manga about Akuma-kun, then in 1966-7 he rebooted the series (to use the current lingo) in Shônen Magazine. That's what we have in the book I'm talking about here. Then in 1970, in Shônen Jump, he did a rewrite of the kashihon Akuma-kun, which was probably already getting hard to find. In 1987-8 he wrote a sequel to this in Comic BE! コミックBE! Then in 1988-90 he rebooted it again for Comic BonBon コミックボンボン. Meanwhile in 1993 and 1994 he revived the 1966-7 incarnations of Akuma-kun for a couple of newly written books.

In short, there are three versions of the character running around out there, and chronologically they all overlap. Confusing, but tantalizing. Eventually I'll read 'em all. But at the moment the only Akuma-kun I've read is this book.

In this incarnation, essentially Akuma-kun (real name Yamada Shingô) is that one boy in every ten thousand years who can master the ancient rituals for demon-summoning and control. But he can't do it alone: in the first story Dr. Faust shows up to teach him the finer points. Thereafter Akuma-kun can summon the devil Mephisto and make him do his bidding. But Akuma-kun has only the best of intentions. He wants to harness the demons' supernatural power to do good, bring world peace, etc.

As you can see right off the bat, it's a very loose take-off on the Faust myth. I'm eager to read other incarnations to see if Mizuki ever goes much farther in exploring that myth, because to tell the truth, that doesn't seem to be the point here.

Rather, I think Mizuki used this milieu as essentially an opportunity to explore Western monsters, ghosties, ghoulies, and demons. Mizuki is, as is well known, Japan's foremost artist of traditional Japanese monsters: he's made a cottage industry out of researching and imagining creepies out of Japanese folklore, of which the kappa is only the most pedestrian example. That's what his most famous series, Kitarô, is all about.

With Akuma-kun he gives himself license to explore monstrosities out of the Western traditions. Dantean demons, Boschean horrors. Witches, dapper European devils, haunted castles, etc. It is, if you will, an exercise in Occidentalism (a tendency in Japan every bit as pronounced as America's Orientalism); this extends to the kabbalah trappings Mizuki throws into Akuma-kun's demonology.

Which is not to say that Mizuki is undertaking a taxonomy of Western horrors. A lot of the most impressive spooks here seem to have sprung straight from his id. We're talking primordial, Chthulhu-like weirdness here. And at the same time, he can't entirely suppress his love for oozy Japanese monsters, and so he throws in a couple of them; and let's not forget the cameo by Enma (the judge of the dead; in Japan usually imagined as Chinese).

The stories themselves are mediocre, mostly devolving into the supernatural equivalent of kaijû battels. But the art: wow. Nightmarish and comic all at the same time, and the detail. Look at that full-page rendering of the head-monster: check out the skull mandala at the top left, floating on a swirl of bones. And then note Akuma-kun at the bottom left: "Yow!" He's right.


joan pablo said...

can you leave a link to download the mangas?, congratulations the post wasr great.

Tanuki said...

Glad you liked the post. I have no idea where you'd download the manga, though. I bought my copy in Japan several years ago, and I have no plans to scan it and make it available online.